TSPN Talks Science Communication: The STEAM Sisters

On Wednesday November 24th 2021, the Toronto Science Policy Network (TSPN) hosted an interactive talk on science communication by the STEAM Sisters, who shared their experiences and gave advice on how trainees can better communicate their work.

Sandhya Mylabathula and Swapna Mylabathula (known as the STEAM Sisters) both do research on concussions as PhD and MD/PhD students at the University of Toronto. Previously, they’ve co-developed a national concussion strategy, consulted on provincial concussion policy, and delivered a TEDx Talk on health policy. They are recognized as two of the top 50 Most Influential Torontonians & as Urban Heroes.

To kick off the interactive talk, they asked the audience: “What is science communication?” Numerous responses were received, including outreach, misinformation, advancing science culture, sharing science with policymakers. The Sisters defined science communication as “taking technical concepts and transforming them into accessible stories to the general public.” Furthermore, they outlined six considerations when communicating science, which include: defining the goal, audience, timing, platform, sources, and passion.

The Sisters emphasized the importance of relatable messaging and storytelling using a 3 F’s approach. This approach includes FINDing your passion and FOLLOWing through on your interests to see what gaps in policy exist. The conversation also needs FUEL to be sustained — that is, spreading the word through outreach via social media, news, and research. During the talk, the Sisters initiated smaller discussions in breakout rooms where they challenged the audience to create a social media post/story about a science policy topic of their choice. Audience members were to: identify a relevant problem, identify actions to solve it, consider costs/benefits, and create an elevator pitch to convince decision-makers on their plan of action.

According to the Sisters, effective science communication makes science accessible to the general public by translating jargon and creating inviting discussions where the public can be a part of the conversation. They also explain the importance of trust building in efforts to combat misinformation. To conclude the talk, they emphasized that storytelling is a great way to share information. It is the duty of the communicator to find a way to personally connect with the audiences as a hook, and to mention both the “what” and the “why” of the issue (i.e. why is it important?).

A recording of the panel can be viewed on our YouTube channel. TSPN extends our profound gratitude to the STEAM Sisters for sharing their expertise and insights. We would also like to thank the Student Initiative Fund for supporting the event. Finally, we thank everyone who attended and participated!

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Toronto Science Policy Network

Toronto Science Policy Network

TSPN is a student science policy group at the University of Toronto, where students & researchers can learn more about and engage in science policy.